The northern section of Londolozi is notorious for keeping you in suspense, as a game drive in the north can be full of surprises, and one never knows what to expect. This suspense was further exacerbated when the rising levels of the Sand River a little while ago prevented us from exploring the north for a few weeks. Hearing lions call, but being unable to go and track and find them. So as soon as the water level dropped, the rangers were eager to go and re-explore the land and try to piece together what had taken place during this time.
After we sipped on our coffee and watched the morning colours in the sky change across the Sand River, our plan for the morning game drive was decided for us as we heard the faint call of lions over the crest in the north. The search was on, and with two other ranger and tracker teams, we devised a plan as to how best to go about searching for these lions and set off.
Aside from the north being inaccessible in the build-up to this morning, the northern section of Londolozi does have the lure of elusiveness, with its lush thickets, and steep banks of the Manyelthi River, and large blocks between the roads, often giving that extra challenge while tracking. On this particular morning, however, we were well rewarded, not once, not twice, but three times, and thankfully so after a few little hiccups along the way.
The First Reward
So setting off in the north, and I will reiterate that it had not been thoroughly traversed for a while at this stage, there were a few sections of road that had ended up being quite sketchy in the sense that there were some rather large and deep muddy puddles. After a period of tracking, we rounded a bend and were so fixated on the tracking that I failed to notice the vehicle tracks that left the road ahead of a fairly significant puddle at the bottom of a relatively steep hill. In approaching the puddle, through which I had driven a day or two before but going in the opposite direction, I didn’t expect any complications and so entered in the normal high-range gear ratio and within split seconds found the vehicle losing traction and swiftly coming to a standstill. My heart sank as I looked around at the guests.
After numerous attempts to get ourselves free, we didn’t want to compromise the guests’ chances of seeing the lions, as we felt we were hot on their tails. We swallowed our pride and accepted defeat. We radioed Ross and Life, who promptly arrived with a tow rope and let us free from the muddy mess. And helped inform everyone else that he had helped set us free. In essence, we were awarded the treacherous ‘pink pouch’.
The Second Reward
One Nkuhuma Lioness, 5 Sub-adults and the Avoca Male
Now freed from our little predicament, we continued the tracking mission. We drove one way, and the other vehicles looped around on the other roads, covering as much ground as we could and scouring for any further tracks that could change the direction of our search. To our pure enjoyment, we rose over a crest, and lying out in the middle of the clearing ahead was an impressive sight of seven lions. As we arrived, it appeared as though they were just regrouping around a fallen marula tree. This made for a great playground for the sub-adults to climb over and claw up against. They were closely followed by one adult lioness and the last remaining Northern Avoca Male. While we were following the lions around, they began calling, and to our surprise, the sub-adult males were leading the charge with the calling. We would not expect them to be calling the way they were, with them still being young and not yet anywhere near capable of claiming a territory.
It was a great opportunity to see the sub-adults together with the Avoca Male, by whom they were sired between mid- to late-2019. As they reach 3-3.5 years of age, they are entering the nomadic phase of their lives and will spend less time with their core pride. So going forward, it will be interesting to see where they move on to and what happens to the adult female that is with them. Will she try to join up with the other adult females and the others from the Nkuhuma Pride? Where are the rest of the Nkuhuma Pride? What is the fate of the last remaining Northern Avoca Male?
While we sat with these lions milling about after they were done climbing on the fallen tree, we heard some more lions calling not too far away. Our immediate thought was, “Which lions could that be?” There was only one way to find out: get ourselves across there and try to find them. The great thing about finding lions by using their calls is that you have a pretty good idea of which direction the calls are coming from, and through experience and using the knowledge of the trackers, you are able to guestimate how far away the calls were coming from. Armed with a rough gauge as to where we thought they were calling from, we set off feeling rather hopeful.
As we arrived in the area where we presumed they were calling from, they called again, helping us pinpoint exactly where they were.
The Third Reward
2 Nkuhuma lionesses and the 4 youngest members of the pride
Ross was the first one to find them, and luckily for us, we were able to answer one of our recent questions, “Where are the rest of the Nkuhuma Pride?”. Ross let us know over the radio that there were two adult females and four sub-adults. Helping us account for the missing members of the pride. These sub-adults were born roughly in May of 2021, and although we have not seen much of them over the last while, they appear to have been doing incredibly well.
We watched them as they stretched, groomed, and played amongst each other on the road and on top of a termite mound. The two older lionesses then led us and the youngster directly towards a herd of buffalo. There they remained undetected, and as the morning warmed up, they too settled in the shade, approximately 2 kilometres away from the first portion of the pride. We can never be too sure, but we believe one possible reason the pride was split up, could have been from stalking the buffalo through the night.
What is next for the Nkuhuma pride?
Aside from just the fact that we have been unable to access their territory due to the levels of the Sand River, the Nkuhuma Pride has been eluding us for some time. Since the last full update of the pride in August 2022, between these two portions of the pride, we noted that some pride members were unaccounted for. It is always hard to draw any conclusions, but it certainly creates room for many possibilities and speculations.
What we do know is that the growing size of the pride had already caused a spilt at the end of 2021, with originally two lionesses moving into the territory of the Plains Camp Males further west. Now with the looming nomadic phase of the subadult males approaching as well as the added pressure from the volatile presence of the two Black Dam Males, we are likely to see further changes to the dynamics of the Nkuhuma Pride and possibly the reign of the Avoca Male in the year ahead. With winter already fast approaching and the water level much lower, there will be no hesitation in the morning game plan as rangers sip over their morning coffee and hear the lions calls rolling over the crests and across the Sand River.